Operations Against Fort Fisher and Wilmington – January-February 1865
Fort Fisher – January 13-15, 1865 – After the failure of his December 1864 expedition against Fort Fisher, Union Major General Benjamin Butler was relieved of command. Major General Alfred Terry was then placed in command of a “Provisional Corps,” including Paine’s Division of U.S. Colored Troops, and supported by a naval force of nearly 60 vessels, to renew operations against the fort. After a preliminary bombardment directed by Rear Admiral David D. Porter on January 13, Union forces landed and prepared an attack on Confederate Major General Robert Hoke’s infantry line. On January 15th, a select force moved on the fort from the rear. A valiant attack late in the afternoon, following the bloody repulse of a naval landing party carried the parapet. The Confederate garrison surrendered, opening the way for a Federal thrust against Wilmington, the South’s last open seaport on the Atlantic coast. The Union victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 2,000.
Wilmington – February 12-22, 1865 – Also known as the Battle of Fort Anderson, Town Creek, Forks Road, and Sugar Loaf Hill, this confrontation took place in New Hanover County. With the fall of Fort Fisher to Major General Alfred Terry’s and Rear Admiral David Porter’s combined operation on January 15, Wilmington’s days were numbered. About 6,600 Confederate troops under Major General Robert Hoke held Fort Anderson and a line of works that prevented the Federals from advancing up the Cape Fear River. In early February, the XXIII Corps arrived at Fort Fisher, and Major General John Schofield took command of the Union forces. Schofield then began a series of maneuvers to force the Confederates to abandon their defenses. On February 16, 1865, Jacob Cox’s division ferried across the river to confront Fort Anderson, while Porter’s gunboats bombarded the fort. On February 17-18, Ames’s division conducted a wide flanking march to get in the fort’s rear. Seeing the trap ready to close, the Confederates evacuated Fort Anderson during the night of the 18th-19th, withdrawing to Town Creek to form a new defensive line. The next day, this line collapsed to increasing Federal pressures. During the night of February 21-22, General Braxton Bragg ordered the evacuation of Wilmington, burning cotton, tobacco, and government stores. The Union victory resulted in total estimated casualties of 1,150.
Campaign of the Carolinas – February-April 1865 – The Carolinas Campaign was the final campaign in the Western Theater of the Civil War. During February-April 1865, Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman advanced north from Savannah, Georgia, through South Carolina and North Carolina, with the intention of linking up with Union forces in Virginia. The defeat of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s army at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, in March, and its surrender in April 1865 represented the loss of the final major army of the Confederacy.
Wyse Fork – March 7-10, 1865 – Also called the Battle of Wilcox’s Bridge, Wise’s Fork, Second Kinston, Second Southwest Creek, and Kelly’s Mill Pond, this large battle, which included about 20,500 soldiers, took place in Lenoir County, North Carolina. in February 1865, Union Major General John Schofield planned to advance inland from Wilmington, at the same time assigning Major General Jacob Cox to direct Union forces from New Berne toward Goldsboro. On March 7, Cox’s advance was stopped by Confederate Major General Robert Hoke’s and Johnson Hagood’s divisions under General Braxton Bragg’s command at Southwest Creek below Kinston. On March 8th, the Confederates attempted to seize the initiative by attacking the Union flanks. After initial success, the Confederate attacks stalled because of faulty communications. On March 9, the Union forces were reinforced and beat back Bragg’s renewed attacks on May 10th after heavy fighting. Bragg withdrew across the Neuse River and was unable to prevent the fall of Kinston on March 14. The Union victory resulted in estimated Union casualties of 1,101 and Confederate casualties of 1,500.
Monroe’s Cross – March 10, 1865 – Also called the Battle of Fayetteville Road and Blue’s Farm, this battle took place in Hoke County. As Union General William Sherman’s army advanced into North Carolina, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division screened its left flank. On the evening of March 9, 1865, two of Kilpatrick’s brigades encamped near the Charles Monroe House in Hoke County. Early on the March 10, Confederate cavalry under the command of Lieutenant General Wade Hampton surprised the Federals in their camps, driving them back in confusion and capturing wagons and artillery. The Federals regrouped and counterattacked, regaining their artillery and camps after a desperate fight. With Union reinforcements on the way, the Confederates withdrew. The inconclusive battle resulted in estimated casualties of 183 Union and 86 Confederate.
Averasborough – March 16, 1865 – Also called the Battle of Taylor’s Hole Creek, Smithville, Smiths Ferry, or Black River, this battle took place on March 16, 1865, in Harnett and Cumberland Counties. On the afternoon of March 15, 1865, Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry came up against Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps — consisting of Taliaferro’s and McLaw’s infantry divisions and Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry — deployed across the Raleigh Road near Smithville. After feeling out the Confederate defenses, Kilpatrick withdrew and called for infantry support. During the night, four divisions of the XX Corps arrived to confront the Confederates. At dawn, March 16, the Federals advanced on a division front, driving back skirmishers, but they were stopped by the main Confederate line and a counterattack. Mid-morning, the Federals renewed their advance with strong reinforcements and drove the Confederates from two lines of works, but were repulsed at a third line. Late afternoon, the Union XIV Corps began to arrive on the field but was unable to deploy before dark due to the swampy ground. Hardee retreated during the night after holding up the Union advance for nearly two days. The inconclusive battle resulted in total estimated casualties of 1,419.
Bentonville – March 19-21, 1865– This battle took place in Johnston County March 19-21, 1865, North Carolina as part of the Campaign of the Carolinas. While Union Major General Henry Slocum’s advance was stalled at Averasborough by Confederate Lieutenant General William Hardee’s troops, the right wing of Union Major General William T. Sherman’s army under the command of Major General O.O. Howard marched toward Goldsborough. On March 19, Slocum encountered the entrenched Confederates of General Joseph E. Johnston who had concentrated to meet his advance at Bentonville. In the late afternoon, Johnston attacked, crushing the line of the XIV Corps. Only strong counterattacks and desperate fighting south of the Goldsborough Road blunted the Confederate offensive. Elements of the XX Corps were thrown into the action as they arrived on the field. Five Confederate attacks failed to dislodge the Federal defenders and darkness ended the first day’s fighting. During the night, Johnston contracted his line into a “V” to protect his flanks with Mill Creek to his rear. On March 20, Slocum was heavily reinforced, but fighting was sporadic. Sherman was inclined to let Johnston retreat. On March 21, however, Johnston remained in position while he removed his wounded and skirmishing heated up along the entire front. In the afternoon, Major General Joseph Mower led his Union division along a narrow trace that carried it across Mill Creek into Johnston’s rear. Confederate counterattacks stopped Mower’s advance, saving the army’s only line of communication and retreat. Mower then withdrew, ending fighting for the day. During the night, Johnston retreated across the bridge at Bentonville. Union forces pursued at first light, driving back Wheeler’s rearguard and saving the bridge. The Federal pursuit was halted at Hannah’s Creek after a severe skirmish. Sherman, after regrouping at Goldsborough, pursued Johnston toward Raleigh. On April 18, Johnston signed an armistice with Sherman at the Bennett House, and on April 26, formally surrendered his army. The Union victory resulted in estimated casualties of 1,646 Union and 3,092 Confederate.
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, November 2018.